Don't give up when life hurts. Surrender instead.
All to Jesus, I surrender
All to Him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live
That hymn, written in 1896 by Judson Van DeVenter, is one of the most evocative I know. Perhaps it's the way I've heard it sung in so many churches — at the end of the service, while the Word of God is still resounding in our hearts. The music is hushed, voices lifted, eyes closed. I've sung "I Surrender All" in Baptist and Reformed congregations, with Charismatics on the mission field, in Sunday school. No matter where or with whom it's sung, it always seems to inspire the same powerful atmosphere of worship.
Why is that, I wonder? What about those words, that melody, the sentiment of surrender is so unerringly affecting?
I surrender all
I surrender all
All to Thee, my blessed Savior
I surrender all
There was a time when I believed, as many do, that full surrender was necessary if I was to be saved. We're often told this. "What shall I do to be saved?" we ask, and somehow just "Believe" doesn't seem strong enough, so it's phrased differently: "Surrender your life to God." But belief and surrender are not the same thing, and Jesus asks only the first to save us. "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:30).
Surrender is different. It can't save us, for the quality of our own surrender is constantly changing. I've said it myself: "I have to give everything to God every single day, because otherwise I keep taking it back." But while surrender cannot save us, it can deepen our relationship with God, and it will give us the strength to get through life's hardest trials. Sometimes it's the only thing that will.
This is a struggle for me, because I don't like to surrender anything. I'm not a person who just lets go. I eagerly respond to Jesus' command in Matthew 7:7: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you."
That command makes sense to me. I want to know and understand what God is doing in every circumstance. But to surrender is to let go, to cease striving, to trust — not because I can see what God is doing and it makes sense, but just because I trust Him. Let me repeat that. Surrender is trusting God in a situation not because we can see with our eyes that He is working all things to our good. It is trusting Him simply because He is who He is.
I can follow and trust God when I can tell what He's doing. When I can see the good working out. When His character makes sense to me. But when I find myself in a situation where I'm blind, where I can't figure out the good, where everything is beyond me — then I'm in a position to surrender. At the same time, I'm in a position to deepen my relationship with God, as a child does who believes in his father, as a woman does who risks her whole heart to love a man.
Surrender, I am learning, is not possible without love. Galatians 5:6 uses the phrase, "Faith which worketh by love" (KJV). It's that sort of faith that alone allows us to surrender to God. Faith for surrender comes through love as we draw nearer to Jesus and choose to trust Him for who He is.
To me, the most striking example of surrender is the Old Testament king and archetypal lover of God, David. The king who drew close to God as a boy tending sheep, who wrote over 70 psalms expressing every shade of struggle, devotion, and passion for God, who is known for all time as "a man after God's own heart," certainly made mistakes. But when his life twisted and turned, when consequences came after him or tragedies struck, he displayed a love for God Himself that far transcended his own interests.
Most striking to me is the story in 2 Samuel when David was on the run for his life, pursued by his own son, Absalom. David loved Absalom intensely; his son's betrayal not only threatened David's life and stole his kingdom, it also broke his heart.
Why, I have to wonder, would God allow something like that to happen? David was old when Absalom rebelled; he had served God faithfully for many years. He had sinned with Bathsheba, yes, but God had already administered consequences for that sin. So what was this all about? If David had felt betrayed by God, I wouldn't have blamed him. And perhaps, to some degree, he did.
But David's surrender was greater than any feeling of betrayal. His love and ultimate trust in God were so great that he never remonstrated with God for allowing this to happen to him. He was bent on accepting whatever God gave him. When a man came out to curse David, David defended the man's life and said, "If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, 'Curse David,' who then shall say, 'Why have you done so?'" (2 Sam. 16:10). The words remind me of Job's famous response to his own suffering: "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21).
David didn't have Romans 8:28 to lean on. He didn't have God's promise to "work all things together for good to those who love God." He had no reason to believe that God was going to make this situation work for him — in fact, he fully believed that God might be cursing him. Yet, he surrendered fully to God's will in this situation. David's love and trust in God transcended his love for his own life; his instinct to defend himself; his human understanding.
David's trust was vindicated back then, and it was ultimately vindicated in the same place mine is — in the cross, where God displayed just how deeply He loves mankind — just how far He's willing to go to prove that we can trust Him. Surrender isn't foolish. It's casting ourselves on the one who loves us more than we love ourselves.
All to Jesus I surrender ...
The longer I live, the more I realize that suffering is a mystery we can't just explain. The Bible refuses to give us pat answers about it. Job was never told why he suffered. David was returned to his throne, but he still lost a beloved son, and the scars of Absalom's betrayal were never negated. I think over the last few years of my own life and wonder why so many things happened. Why did that young mother, my friend and fellow worker, die of cancer? Why did that child drown? Why did that horrendous accident happen, with all its scars and trauma and nightmarish twists? Why do we suffer? Why does life hurt?
I don't know, but I am learning that rather than letting my questions drive me to distrust and distraction, rather than driving myself half-mad trying to delve the pain of life here, I am better off to surrender. To turn my eyes upon Jesus, lift my hands, and declare with David, with Job, and with Jesus Himself that "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15, KJV).
All to Jesus I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.
With my natural tendency to study, to seek, and to wrestle, I've long possessed the faith that works by knowledge, by awareness of the past, by dogged determination. But as I close my eyes and sing, it's the faith that works by love that I desire most. To know Him. To love Him. And to surrender all.
Copyright 2009 Rachel Starr Thomson. All rights reserved.